Over the course of March 2016, VECO participated at two monitoring and evaluation practitioners’ exchanges in The Netherlands. First up was the Oxfam Novib Expert Meeting on “Measuring the impact of development projects for learning and adaptation”, held on March 8, 2016. Through the different case presentations, participants discussed the challenges that impact evaluations pose to organisations as a tool for learning. Such an approach requires grounding your tools in your organisational theory of change as a starting point for learning, yet leaving enough space for the unexpected to emerge and to include different/diverging voices from stakeholders into your analysis.
Faced with these challenges, VECO has developed the Inclusive Business Scan to measure the impact of inclusive business as perceived by farmers (using SenseMaker). Grounded in the principles of inclusive business and new business models in agricultural value chains, the Inclusive Business Scan gives a voice to hundreds of farmers and allows them to interpret their experiences in light of these principles. The resulting patterns and stories are then discussed together with key stakeholders to make sense of the collected data. The joint analysis of the outcomes – including surprises – is a constructive element in VECO’s stakeholder learning processes and supports the adaptation of ongoing programmes as well as other stakeholders’ interventions.
VECO’s experiences with the Inclusive Business Scan proved a useful complement to the debate, offering a different approach to impact measurement that allows for bridging the gap between attribution and contribution and addressing some of the black boxes that purely quantitative or qualitative methods present to its users.
Similar discussions took place at the Center for Development Innovation’s annual conference, “Partnering for Success: How M&E can strengthen partnerships for sustainable development”, held on March 17-18, 2016. There is much ado about partnerships as a key to sustainable development solutions, yet few have paid attention to the particularities of planning, monitoring and evaluating partnerships as such. Several initiatives are under construction to respond to this gap; while partnerships follow a different logic – and require thus more specific tools to support them – there is certainly a potential to cross-fertilise between this incipient field of study and the programmatic take on PM&E.
As VECO’s experiences have shown, SenseMaker can help nurturing and supporting partnerships. Not only through its Inclusive Business Scan, also using the Youth in Agriculture Scan (in development; see first experiences) has VECO fomented dialogue between stakeholders and partners, based on large-scale data as indexed by the respondents themselves. At the CDI conference, VECO’s presentation focused more on the birth of partnerships between stakeholders who have a common interest – in this case, fostering the involvement of youth in agri-business. Sparked by large amounts of first-hand data, the joint analysis has strengthened ties between stakeholders and provided the basis for targeted interventions that respond to real needs. It can then be further used to monitor progress and to stimulate discussions on the functioning of partnerships.
Both events provided unique opportunities to engage with professionals from a plethora of similar and different organisations on the challenges that we face at the hour of measuring progress, the impact of our work and how to learn from it all. It was encouraging to hear the many positive reactions to VECO’s use of SenseMaker, with several organisations interested in further exchanges to explore the option of adding it to their own M&E toolkits. Inspired by other colleagues’ presentations, we came back to the office with a reinvigorated drive to improve our own tools and to explore new ways of capturing and supporting the dynamics of our work, be it from organisational learning to brokering partnerships.